A western snowy plover protects its eggs.
updated 3/23/2004 10:38:53 AM ET 2004-03-23T15:38:53

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday it will reconsider its protection of the western snowy plover, a nesting shorebird whose status as a federally threatened species has forced beach closings each spring and summer from southern Washington to southern Baja.

The bird was listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1993, but a recent lawsuit and petitions contend it is genetically identical to inland populations.

Populations must be threatened and a distinct species to qualify for protection.

The agency said the argument against protecting the plovers is based primarily on an unpublished 2001 master’s thesis that showed no significant genetic difference between the coastal and inland populations. The original threatened designation was based on the fact the populations breed in different locations.

Greg Broderick, an attorney in the lawsuit brought by the city of Morro Bay and a Santa Barbara County coalition of citizens and small business owners, said the petition also relies on years of government data. He criticized the agency for waiting until after it was sued to issue a decision, inconveniencing beachgoers for yet another summer.

The service said it will spend a year reviewing the data.

The species has been declining along the West Coast largely because of human interference, loss of nesting habitat, invasive beach grass, and predators that can easily find the sandy nesting sites, the service said. Biologists found about 1,600 adult birds along the coastal United States last year, most south of the San Francisco Bay area.

To stem the loss, large stretches of beaches are closed during the birds’ nesting season from March to September.

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